More than 180 different variants of the human papillomavirus have been identified to date. Some of them involve little risk, others a lot of risk. So different variants give different clinical conditions. Low-risk variants can cause plantar warts and genital warts. High-risk variants can cause genital cancers such as cervical cancer. HPV vaccination reduces the risk of cervical cancer by up to 70%.
As far as is known, a low-risk HPV variant cannot transform into a high-risk variant. We therefore do not perform a blood or tissue test on a patient who presents with a wart.
Unclear role of HPV in basal cell carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer in the Netherlands after basal cell carcinoma. There are at least 15,000 new cases every year. We know that HPV plays a role in the development of squamous cell carcinoma. In basal cell carcinoma, this role is less clear.
Vaccination as an alternative to surgery
HPV vaccination, which is now mainly used for the prevention of cervical cancer, could also contribute to the treatment and prevention of non-melanoma skin cancer, according to researchers. Injecting the vaccine into a skin cancer tumor could even be an alternative to surgically removing such a tumor.
It is suspected that the combination of UV radiation and HPV is an important factor in the development of squamous cell carcinoma. Research shows that HPV is more likely to be found on skin that has been exposed to UV rays and less often on skin that has not been exposed to it. In addition, it has been proven that HPV disrupts DNA repair, making the skin more vulnerable to UV radiation.
How do you contract Human Papilloma virus?
This can be done through skin-to-skin contact, but also through contaminated objects such as a razor blade. People with a reduced immune system or people who take immune-suppressing drugs after, for example, an organ transplant, are more likely to be infected with HPV. In addition, people who have had an organ transplant are fifty times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma.
The good news is that most human papillomaviruses can be dealt with by the immune system on its own without the need for treatment. However, that does not give immunity, you can always be infected again.